Highland Park, Illinois, lies 23 miles north of downtown Chicago. It's about a 30-minute drive on the highway, but it can seem like a lifetime when traffic is bad. The bus I was on was headed there, though I didn't know it at the time. I stared out the window watching cars and unfamiliar buildings speed by like they were on a conveyor belt. (When you can't see out the front of your vehicle, you lose your sense of place. For all I knew, we were headed to Wisconsin.)
Eventually the bus exited an endless line of cars, turning on to Half Day Road, making a right on Point Lane, a private drive, and pulling up to a gate with the number "23" outlined in silver attached to it. I instantly knew: this was Michael Jordan's house.
Or at least it used to be. MJ stopped being a full-time resident a few years ago, though he still comes back occasionally to play pick-up basketball games in the city. Now he's either relaxing with his family in a mansion in Florida or ensconced in his high-rise condo in Charlotte, North Carolina, fuming about the NBA team he owns there.
The 50,000-square-foot Highland Park compound, featuring nine bedrooms and 15 bathrooms (per Zillow), has been on the market for a few years. The asking price is $16 million. For a property that includes a putting green, basketball and tennis courts and a pond, the price seems modest. Together with a few other members of the media, I was here courtesy of the Jordan Brand to test their latest basketball shoe, the Air Jordan XX9.
The gate opened to a sprawling driveway leading to a house that seemed to stretch for miles. The exterior of Jordan's mansion is underwhelming, with beige walls and wavy, 70s-style windows that don't allow you to see inside. Through one of what seemed like dozens of doors, we were ushered into His Airness's man cave—complete with a bar, stormy grey couches and chairs, a white rug, a TV screen bigger than some New York apartments, and a statue of a dog that more than one person mistook for a live animal. A waterfall gurgled behind two large glass doors. It was almost serene.
After dressing in a makeshift locker room—donning jerseys that sported our Twitter handles on the back (the most 21st century thing ever)—we headed to MJ's indoor basketball court. It has a beautiful, shiny floor, with a Jumpman logo at mid court, decorated with the names of Jordan's two sons and daughter. A beautiful wood ceiling hangs overhead. On this court, Michael Jordan spent countless hours becoming the greatest basketball player who ever lived.
I tried to take it all in, imagining MJ—younger, thinner, in Chicago Bulls basketball shorts with a tank top clinging to his body, wearing Air Jordan 1s on his feet, and swishing jumper after jumper. I tried to internalize the fact that I was stepping on to that very same court in his latest signature shoe, and stopped to think about what that meant.
But as I ran up and down the court—sinking a couple of 3-pointers, air-balling a few others and playing atrocious defense—the thought that I was playing basketball in Michael Jordan's gym faded from my mind. Perhaps it was because I was focused on not passing out from fatigue, or avoiding contact with the unnaturally sweaty man I was guarding; but I couldn't savor the moment like I had hoped to. I wanted to look to my right and imagine Jordan on the wing, calling for the ball with that killer look in his eyes, a look that meant shame and humiliation for me if I didn't comply. I wanted to see guys like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant clowning around on the sideline, saying something like, "Mike, come on man, it's been three hours. Let's play cards and light up a cigar." But I couldn't.
It wasn't until I was back on the bus, sweaty and exhausted, heading south to our downtown hotel, that it all sank in. For a few hours on an unseasonably cool August day in Chicago, I did what Michael Jordan had done for years. He has six championship rings to show for it. I got a pair of new shoes, a jersey and a memory that I'll tell my kids about. And though I couldn't feel MJ's presence like I wanted to, that's still pretty cool.
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